Father of GearJunkie, Age 63, Treks 96 miles Thru Badlands

This week, Chuck Regenold, age 63 and the father of GearJunkie editor Stephen Regenold, hiked the 96-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail in western North Dakota’s Badlands. The remote track, which a GearJunkie group mountain-biked last month (see the trip report “Back From ‘Maah Daah Hey’ Trail”), winds through desert and grasslands, climbing and descending constantly for its whole length. Chuck hiked the trail solo and carried all food, filtering water from streams and at least one “cow pond.” (He noted he could “still taste the cow” even after purification!) On the trek, Chuck battled blisters, vague trail spurs that took him off route, and wild, free-range steer not happy to see him in their grazing grounds along the way. Here son Stephen Regenold interviews his dad on the Maah Daah Hey experience.

GearJunkie (Stephen Regenold): Congrats, dad! Quite a hike. How did it go?
Chuck Regenold: It was a great adventure. I hiked from sunup ‘til sundown all four days. What a place! Very remote. I hardly saw anyone, no one in fact two of the days. Overall, though, the hike went well. Physically it was not as hard as I thought it would be at first, but the trail got exhausting. I had big blisters on the first day on account of wearing too-small trail runners! They fit at home and for average hikes, but for the long days on this trail they were too small.

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Map of Maah Daah Hey and Chuck Regenold

Any other gear issues?
I grabbed the wrong backpack. My pack, an old JanSport that I modified, just did not fit right. The hip belt kept subtly loosening as I hiked, slowly putting more and more weight on my shoulders until they ached.

How many miles a day did you make it?
The route was 96 miles, and I think I did 22 miles the first day, 27 the second, 22 miles, and then 25 the last day. That’s about only a 2mph average, I know, but this trail is tough!

Hardest part of the trip?
The first 25 miles. Just getting going. There were also wash-outs up there at the north end of the trail [he hiked from the north to the south, starting at the CCC Camp trailhead], and I once made a wrong turn up there and accidently circled back on the route. Classic dumb mistake.

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Views of the trail

How much food did you bring and what type of food?
I started with about 7 pounds of food, ended with none. I ate like I would on an endurance race, including lots of little “meals” of about 200 calories each. Lots of M&Ms and beef sticks, energy-gel packs, nuts, granola, a few dehydrated meals. I got really sick of the M&Ms. Never thought getting sick of M&Ms was possible before this! I had to force myself to eat at times. I would run low on energy and not feel like eating at all. But I made myself. This is key. You can feel it right away when you eat, and then you can get moving again.

Was water an issue? This trail is notoriously dry.
At the start I had 2 gallons in my pack! Lot of weight. But 64 ounces of that water was “do not touch” — I was saving that amount for an emergency in case I could not find water down the trail. But after a while I realized that did not make sense. I would drink this reserve once I was getting close to a source. I had a gravity filter from Platypus — what a great product! It made filtering water easy. I drank from muddy streams, the Little Missouri River, an animal trough, and once a “cow pond,” which was a muddy hole with hoof prints around it. Even after filtering that water I could still taste the cow! I did run out of water near the end, maybe the last five miles. Man, it’s hard to go without water! Glad I was at the end.

What was your sleeping gear?
No tent, just a bivy sack, pad and sleeping bag. I brought a lightweight fleece blanket. Grabbed it at the last minute. Was that warm! I felt like it added 20 degrees. I used a large poncho as my tarp. It’s a sil-nylon poncho that converts to a tarp if needed.

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Full map of the Maah Daah Hey

Your gear was not too ultra-light overall, right?
Well, you know I brought my hatchet. I don’t go without it! Think if a storm came up and I had to pound [tarp] stakes into that hard Badlands ground. I think I started with 22 pounds gear in all. Sleeping bag, pad, SPOT device, phone, whistle, knife, and a few more things. The water filter weighed 10 ounces. It all adds up.

What gear was essential?
The Leki trekking poles. I pushed off them a lot. They really helped get me down the trail. The Platypus Gravity Filter. That is an excellent product. That fleece blanket I mentioned. I loved that.

Any recommendations for someone looking to hike the Maah Daah Hey like you did it?
Bring the right shoes and pack! That was my big gear mistake. What worked on shorter training hikes failed on the long trek.

The Maah Daah Hey is a remote stretch. How many people did you see out there in all?
No one on the first day or third days. All alone. The second day I saw two bikers. They were doing 35 miles that day. Then on the final day, when going through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there were a few people. One guy was solo thru-hiking. He was from Bismarck, N.D., and he had a light daypack on only. He’d drove through the Badlands the day prior and made “stashes” of food and water and gear to grab along his trek. There was a woman and her two sons hiking. They looked like they just stepped out of an LL Bean catalog. They looked really slick.

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Badlands view: Trail cuts through grasslands and rugged desert terrain

You had a run-in with a free-range steer? What happened?
One night, deep in a draw, I thought I saw this bull or steer crouched there and waiting for me. I did not want to go down there in the dark, so I stopped hiking. I camped there. But in the morning the “steer” was actually just a log! Later in the trek, though, I did get close to a real free-range steer. He was giving me a weird look. He didn’t like me there at all and was making strange signals and moving strange. I thought ‘I have no where to run!’ There is no where to hide, no trees to climb out there. So I just put my head down. I hiked quickly past that steer and he left me alone as I got out of his way.

—GearJunkie founder Stephen Regenold credits his father for instilling a lifelong passion for adventure in him as a kid. He canoed the Minnesota River with his father at age 3, camped and hiked growing up. As a teenager, the father and son set a year-long goal to learn to rock climb and then ascend Wyoming’s Devils Tower. They stood on the summit together in May of 1995, a few days before Stephen graduated from high school at age 17.

Posted by Aaron - 05/17/2012 10:10 AM

We did a 3 day hike there a few years ago. On the 2nd morning we were woke by a cow sticking her nose into our tent and Moooooing at us. Really funny way to wake up.

Posted by tom faranda - 05/17/2012 03:47 PM

That’s really quite a feat. I’d be interested in knowing – and so would other people I’m sure – what extra stuff Chuck may have done to get in shape for this trip.

Posted by T.C. Worley - 05/18/2012 10:42 AM

Favorite article in a long time. Proud to know you, Chuck. A great example of an outdoor-minded father.

Posted by Jennifer Morlock - 05/19/2012 09:39 AM

Most hikers take 5 days-Some give up after the first 15-Great Job Chuck-You are a true inspiration to others!

Posted by Robert - 05/19/2012 07:06 PM

http://www.adventuretravelshop.co.uk Well done that man! What an amazing achievement.

Posted by Sally - 05/21/2012 03:07 PM

Hey there…glad you made it and thanks for the compliment ( I think!) I am the (60yr old ) woman with the two twenty something sons that you met on the Maah Daah Hey! We hiked the whole thing also (97 miles). It was great! We have blisters too ! Nice that we “old” people are out there continuing to enjoy challenges! My sons and I really enjoyed this uniquely beautiful place.

Posted by Glen Bruhschwein - 05/22/2012 12:43 AM

Hello Sally and Chuck. I am the guy from “Bismarck” [Actually Dickinson]. Enjoyed seeing and filming both of you on the thru-hike. My thru-hike of course has an asterisk. I only carried a full pack on days 2 and 3. Day one I went light for 30 miles to my full pack, I had stashed it near Forest Service Road 722. Day 4 I dropped the full pack early in the day near Mile Marker 71.5 at the Beicegal Creek Road. I admire that both of you did the full trail with a full pack. With the lighter load on days 1 and 4, I had the luxury of not needing to use all the daylight hours. My hours of moving were: Day 1 (light day pack) – 13 hours (29.5 miles), Day 2 (full pack) – 10 hours (23 miles), Day 3 (Full Pack) – 9 hours (22 miles), Day 4 (light daypack) – 8 hours (24.5 miles) This adds up to a little more than the stated trail length of 96 miles, but included a couple of forays for fresh water, a diversion around that nasty nasty slump at MM80.25 and one wrong turn.
However, I think I get a little slack for cheating. I had never done more than a little “car camping” 20 years prior to this. This was my first night in a tent in more than 20 years and until 4 weeks ago I had never owned a backpack or a day pack. I found my training hikes in the South unit of TRNP in April to be particulary helpful. I spent several lengthy day hikes of 20 or more miles roaming off trail and doing frontal assaults of buttes with a full pack. Understanding the game trails and the best way to move up and down the buttes off trail was great help and was actually harder than anything I encountered on the Maah Daah Hey. However, I would caution others to be well prepared and conditioned if they believe they can rip 20 miles or more of this trail in a day. 4 months ago, 20 miles per day without a pack would not have been even close to a possibility for me. Also, Chuck Sally and I all had the great fortune to not have any significant precipitation while on the trail. I trained in Badlands rain/gumbo mud and it is Nasty stuff. I was prepared for two additional days on the trail in case of rain. I would not have stopped, but know that no more than 10 to 12 miles per day would have been possible. Badlands mud is greasy and an extreme hazard. P.S. I am 50.

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